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Digital transformation in elder care 

Digital transformation is essential for the future of elder care. Here we take a look at the benefits, how to succeed and why it is absolutely necessary.

1. The background of why we need a digital transformation

The UK is facing a growing wave of dementia. Combined with a well-publicised lack of staffing resources, this could push many care services to breaking point. To address the challenge, local authorities and healthcare workers must change and adapt their way of working. We need to undergo a digital transformation in elder care, supported by care technology and a digital-first mindset.  

What is needed and how do we begin?

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2. The number of elderly with dementia will increase exponentially

By 2060, the percentage of the population over the age of 80 is predicted to double from 4.5 per cent to 9 per cent. It is, of course, positive that better nutrition and healthier living conditions mean we are living longer than before. As recently as 1970, the average age for men was 69 years. In 2060, it will be close to 90. But the medal has a flip side: More people with dementia, and fewer warm hands to give them the care they need and deserve. 

Figures from the Alzheimers Society and the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre show that the cost of dementia will rise from £34.7 billion currently, to £94.1 billion by 2040. 

University College London made alarming findings when they mapped the health of of the population in the UK. According to previous research* in England and Wales, the number of people living with dementia was previously predicted to increase by 57 per cent from 0.77 million in 2016 to 1.2 million in 2040. 

However, the new research, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, suggests that this figure could be as high as 1.7 million. 

The prevalence of dementia among the elderly is far higher than we were aware of. Now the question is whether we, and perhaps other countries, have misjudged the extent of dementia among the older population. 

And the challenges do not stop there. Although we have long been aware of the challenges with the ageing wave – an increase in the population over 67 years from 2012 to 2040 – there is another concern that casts a darker shadow over the future healthcare system: The exponential growth of elderly with dementia. 

This rising rates of dementia follows in the wake of the rapid increase of 80-90-year-olds, which started in 2020 and lasts until 2030. When the wave of elderly over 90 hits us in five years, we will really start to feel the challenges physically. Then it gets much worse, year by year.

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3. Digital transformation is necessary and we cannot staff our way out of the situation 

The care sector needs to recruit 128,000 new staff members every year to replace those that retire or leave and to meet increasing demand. Increased demand alone means that in 10 years’ time the sector needs 500,000 new members of staff. To put this in context, the current worksforce is 80 per cent female. In 2017, 126,642 young women left secondary education.  Assuming the care sector remains primarily staffed by women, it would need to recruit 102,000, or 81 per cent, of those female school leavers every year to meet demand. Which is clearly not a possible solution. 

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Technology is part of the solution.

It is well publicised that the NHS and budget for social care is chronically stretched. If we are to avoid bursting capacity, we need to think anew, technology is clearly part of the solution. But where should the focus be for a digital transformation of elder care? In our opinion, where it is needed most.

4. Digital transformation improves patient safety and prevent fall accidents

The first step in the digital transformation should be to improve patient safety among people with dementia and those who have a risk of falling, which are the two biggest cost drivers for the health service. People with dementia are at high risk of falling, as they often have sleep disorders, reduced cognitive abilities, and take medications that can make them drowsy. 

From Patient Safety 1.0 to Patient Safety 2.0 – from active to passive alerting. 

With what we choose to call Patient Safety 1.0, which is most prevalent in elder care today, there are two measures: Physical inspections and active alerting. One of the challenges with physical inspections, where one enters as quietly as possible to check if everything is okay, is that it requires relatively high night staffing and can disturb residents' sleep. Disturbed sleep has several adverse side effects:  

  • The resident is less refreshed the next day and has a reduced quality of life 
  • A resident who wakes up at night from a physical inspection is more likely to become confused, get out of bed, and fall – something that, without digital inspections, would not be captured until the next physical inspection round  

In addition, physical inspections implicitly mean that you never know if you are prioritising your time correctly – whether the person you are inspecting is the person who needs it most at that moment.  

Active alerting involves equipping users with an alarm necklace they can press if they need help. The problem is that many people living with dementia are not mentally able enough to know they can press it. Thus, they do not get the help they need in critical situations. Others press all the time. It triggers false alarms, which require time to follow up. Safety alarms such as alarm necklaces are great for their use, primarily in home care. But in nursing homes, where an increasingly large proportion of residents are demented, this provides false security.

5. «Digital first» work method is possible through digital transformation

Patient Safety 2.0 has a «digital first» work method supported by smart sensors. These sensors are placed in the residents' rooms and can register and interpret movements and sounds, and automatically alert healthcare workers when something critical happens – so-called passive alerting.   

If a resident with dementia gets up in bed in the middle of the night, the sensor will alert the healthcare worker. This can then view an anonymised live image from the room to clarify whether the resident, for example, is just adjusting the pillow or is on their way out of bed. The healthcare worker can then quickly come to the resident's aid and prevent a fall.  

By moving from inspections at fixed times to an event-driven work method with the help of a digital care rounds, we can provide residents with more precise and efficient care, significantly reduce fall accidents, and create more security for both residents, healthcare workers, and relatives. The technology already exists, and Sensio's own safety sensor, RoomMate, has been on the market since 2016 and is installed in over 10,000 rooms. The feedback shows a reduction in fall accidents by 40-60 per cent, and in some institutions, by up to over 80 per cent reduction. 

6. Significant benefits with digital transformation

Digital transformation provides significant benefits for residents, relatives, healthcare personnel and the economy:  


  • Fewer falls, better safety, and less fall related injuries
  • Better sleep 
  • More tailored services  

  • Increased sense of security
  • Reduced burden

Healthcare personnel:

  • Less stress 
  • Fewer deviations
  • Better use of time 

The economy: 
  • Keep service recipients lower on the care ladder 
  • Less sick leave among healthcare personnel 
  • Reduced night staffing

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7.  How to lead a successful digital transformation in healthcare? 

Finally, we want to share some lessons from digital change management in practice. After many years of implementing RoomMate, we have learned that it is not enough to install digital sensors. Care services and local auhtorities must undergo a digital transformation with a «digital first» work methodology to realise all the benefits enabled through RoomMate. 

However, the job is not finished when the sensors are in place and the healthcare personnel have been trained. That is when the change begins, with translating the knowledge into practice and implementing a change in how the workflow should be conducted – this is the only way it is possible to carry out a digital transformation of elder care, as the introduction to this article shows the necessity of. 

On the road to digital transformation, you should expect to encounter challenges, and it is important to allocate resources both beforehand and especially along the way, to solve these. 

8. Five steps to succeed with a digital transformation 

Through the experience we have gained over the years these five steps are important to Sensio for succeeding with the change to a digital first work methodology.  

1. You must ensure that all involved understand why the changes are necessary. 

2. Further, you should demonstrate the value it will create both for them and the residents. 

3. Only now comes the need for training in both technology and a changed way of working. Many start at this point, but then the likelihood of success is much lower.

4. You must translate the knowledge into practical action and actually embrace the new way of working. 

5. The new processes should be reinforced each day over a longer period until it becomes a habit. This becomes easier if you internally share statistics and positive examples to support the value that the changed way of working delivers. 

These five steps are not revolutionary in themselves, but they require a systematic focus from all involved. Especially from healthcare leaders, but ideally from care management down to each care giver. Do not be afraid that you will not manage it, at Sensio we will help you to implement all the steps. 

While many see technology as the driving force behind change, we have realised that the key lies in the opposite perspective: We must first define the ideal way of working , then use technology as a supporting tool to realise it. 

This change in mindset has given us a predictable method for leading and implementing many successful projects, resulting in our customers now implementing the solutions more broadly across entire nursing homes – which is also an important factor for success. 

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9. It is time for action

The time to meet today's challenges in elder care and stem the coming wave of dementia is short. Welfare technology and a digital-first work methodology are crucial for solving the staffing crisis through a digital transformation. But all of us, healthcare leaders, healthcare personnel, welfare technologists, and politicians, must understand the everyday life of the thousands of individuals who work in our fantastic healthcare system. They did not choose the profession to work with technology but to make a difference in other people's everyday lives.

Therefore, we must help facilitate as simple a transformation as possible, with user-friendly, intuitive, and not least value-creating technology and digital solutions. If we manage that, we are a significant step towards solving today's and tomorrow's challenges in elderly care and contributing to more time for care. 

* According to previous research in England and Wales, the number of people living with dementia was previously predicted to increase by 57 per cent from 0.77 million in 2016 to 1.2 million in 2040. However, the new research, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, suggests that this figure could be as high as 1.7 million. 


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